Sunday, 11 August 2013

Film review: My Little Pony: Equestria Girls

From the opening credits
It's impressive how they're all instantly recognisable in silhouette
All right; I said a little while back that I wouldn't be reviewing Equestria Girls until I'd had a chance to see it in some official medium. I've now done that — by going with some other bronies to the screening at the Showcase Cinema de Lux in Leicester. It was a very enjoyable day, with that wonderful feeling of camaraderie that comes with knowing you're sharing in something really rather ridiculous but also really rather special. Enough about the meetup, though: it's time I got on with my actual movie review. Click past the jump for that — spoilers ahoy!

It's no secret that I was one of the many bronies who hated the whole concept of Equestria Girls when it first emerged. While I would still much, much rather have had a proper Friendship is Magic film, I can't deny that my views have softened considerably now I've seen EqG for myself. The storyline is indeed horribly "generic tween" in that Twilight, transformed into a human, has to learn to cope with the terrors of... high school! But I think Meghan McCarthy did about the best she could with such an unpromising premise.

Just before Sunset Shimmer uses the mirror
Look! Ponies! There on the screen! *squees* Shame it's not for long...
The first few minutes of the movie are set in the Crystal Empire. This is the closest we'll get for a while (if ever) to seeing FiM itself on the big screen. The cold open is quite nicely done, even if the scene with Twilight trying to sleep is just asking for a slew of "wingboner" jokes. Then we get the remixed theme and credit sequence. This is actually pretty awesome: it comes across like a particularly accomplished PMV. I particularly approve of Fluttershy's little "yay" as she moves her cloud!

The new villain, Sunset Shimmer stealing the crown is quite an exciting little sequence. After a rather awkward explanation from Celestia about the magic mirror ("Yes, the existence of this thing did totally slip my mind — just like the fact that you had a brother totally slipped yours") we're thrown into Humanised Canterlot and the main story begins. This is really split into three sections: learning about humans, the Fall Formal plotline and finally the fight against Sunset Shimmer.

Winged humanised Rainbow Dash gives Scootaloo a lift
Nope, not for bronies at all. No shout-outs here, no indeedy
Despite their undoubtedly ridiculous stick-thin arms, I was pretty pleased with the characterisation of the humanised ponies. Most of them (apart from maybe Snips and Snails) felt just right. The story requires the rest of the HuMane Six(?) to dislike each other at first, which seems a bit odd when we feel we know the characters so well, especially as the whole thing could have been resolved very easily. Dog!Spike is particularly pleasing, though: I utterly hated this concept when I first heard about it, but it really works. Even his crush on Rarity survives pretty much intact.

The quality of Twilight's interaction with the HuMane Five varies a lot. Her scenes with them, especially Pinkie and Fluttershy, work very well on the whole — her introduction to the latter is virtually a carbon copy of what happened in S1E1 of FiM. Nevertheless, there are problems, the most glaring being the "Oh, you're a magical pony princess; awesome!" reaction. Not even an "Are you sure you're all right, sugarcube?" or the like. The football scene with Rainbow Dash was rather dull, but Dash herself is more likable than I'd expected.

Flash Sentry talks to Twilight
"So, can you do magic in Equestria that can give a guy an actual personality?"
Let's next tackle one thing head-on: yes, there's a romance sub-plot, and yes, it's a bit of a pain. It's kept pretty minimal, to the extent that I suspect (albeit with absolutely no evidence) that McCarthy would have dumped it altogether if Hasbro had let her. Yes, she also wrote "A Canterlot Wedding", in which the cheesy "power of love" wins the day, but this is worse. Flash Sentry, or "Brad" as the fandom dubbed him, is given very little depth, and I think someone as intelligent as Twilight might end up rather bored in that relationship.

The animation is generally fine. I wouldn't say it was up to the standard of the very best that we've seen in FiM, though how much of that's simply because the style works less well for humans I couldn't say. As for Daniel Ingram's music, I've already mentioned the credit sequence; the other standout is undoubtedly "Helping Twilight Win the Crown" — weirdly officially known simply as "Equestria Girls". A shame it peters out, but otherwise it's fantastic. The other songs range from decent ("This Strange World") to forgettable ("Time to Come Together").

From "Helping Twilight Win the Crown"
Canterlot Wondercolts: breaking people's glasses since 1935
Okay, references... let's just say that for a movie ostensibly aimed at tween girls, this has an awful lot of references to brony favourites. Trixie at the vending machine is one of the most obvious, but I think the best of them involve the CMC. When their song plays in the library and Cheerilee switches it off just before the word "pony" plays; Scootaloo doing a chicken dance; Scoots (again) being "flown" by winged humanised Dash... oh, and we get two three Derpy spots, one during the end credits.

The last section of Equestria Girls is very different to what's gone before. Yep, it's a tween high school film, what with all the dancing and dresses and romance and hellish winged fireball-hurling demons enslaving everyone... er, what? In a nice sequence, the power of friendship (what else?) transforms the Mane Six into eared, tailed and in some cases winged (but not horned!) magical girls that are presumably supposed to look anime-ish. Another nod to FiM is that the order of the "Elements" is the same as was given in S1E2.

Sunset Shimmer becomes a demon
You know, for kids...
The resolution is rather disappointing: it feels very rushed, and the couple of minutes we're granted back in ponified Equestria gives us little more than a bit of silliness from Pinkie and an awkward Twilight/Flash scene that feels horribly out of place in the FiM world. Then we're into the end credits, and all that remains to do is to wait for Derpy's muffin dance. The song that plays during those credits is one that quite a lot of people seem to like, but I'm afraid I found it rather forgettable.

All in all, Equestria Girls is a surprisingly watchable movie, especially if you can gather a few friends to go and see it with. (Don't expect too many actual kids: there were two in our showing!) It's saved from mediocrity by the impressive quality of the voice acting, the talents of the writer and music that is (albeit patchily) pretty decent. But it's certainly not a classic: there are too many plot holes, the romance subplot is pointless and... well... I still want ponies in my Pony films, dammit!

The magic of friendship wins the day
Twilight gets the widest stripe; Pinkie the narrowest. Hmm...
  • Nowhere near as bad as most of us feared
  • A couple of very catchy tunes
  • Some very funny references
  • Generally good characterisation and voice acting
  • Sunset Shimmer is a reasonable villain
  • Dog!Spike is portrayed very well
  • Uneven pacing, especially the rushed end
  • Some of the songs are forgettable
  • What did happen to the original human Twi?
  • The HuMane Five's mutual dislike is hoofwaved a bit
  • Flash Sentry is just plain boring
  • Celestia's design is unsettling


  1. I must admit, my thought process towards the end of the film was:
    "Ya know what? This has been a pretty entertaining, if not hugely unusual tween thing. I mean, there's a high school, teenagers split by their social groupings, an undelying message of unity, and there's the winged demon turning people in zombies so...wait...what?"

    Personally, I enjoyed it. :)

    1. Sounds about right! Still, I suppose after Cerberus appeared from nowhere in "It's About Time" I shouldn't be surprised by these things any more...

  2. I don't know about the Equestrian ponies, but humans are by comparison with most other animals in a near-constant state of sexual arousal. Twilight was, in other words, being betrayed by unfamiliar hormones, which is why she was so smitten with Flash.

  3. I'm looking forward to the second EG movie this Autumn.